Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Library Books Mid-April Edition

Here are the books that have followed me home in the past thirty days (and I promise this is the last picture I'll take with the creepy bunny):

What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics by Adrienne Rich
Walking into the Night by Olaf Olafsson
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral
The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
Aerial by Bin Ramke
Summer's End by Adalet Ağaoğlu
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Left Handed by Jonathan Galassi
Amiri Baraka & Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Can you tell it is National Poetry Month?  There are two more that I got from the library but had to return (or had to read in Special Collections) - Fifteen Iraqi Poets and The Open Door joined Rich, Corral, Duffy, Ramke, Galassi, and another pile of books owned and purchased, in a poetry reading binge that will continue up until April 30. 

Olafsson, Kent, and Ağaoğlu are for various world literature reading challenges, although the Kent is also shortlisted for the Baileys' Women's Prize for Fiction this year, so I want to read it for two reasons.

I've never read The Giver.  Every once in a while I'll happen across a book I probably should have read long ago but never did.  And now they're making a movie, so the time is now.  It is actually book 1 of a quartet.

Relish is a book I've wanted to read for a while and I know it won't take long once I sit down to look through it.  It has the cutest cover ever and I'll probably have to own it.  It is a foodie graphic novel.  Has that been done before?  Not that I know of.

Speaking of graphic novels, I picked up the Bechdel after it was a central figure in a major defunding/censorship case in my state.  We discussed it at length on the 4th episode of the Reading Envy podcast if you are interested/disgusted by censorship the way I am!  I had previously read the sequel to Fun Home, so I was thrilled to finally get to this one.

Geek Love is the last book I brought home, just this afternoon - it is the May pick for a book club I participate in online.  The book is from 1999 but lately has come up in numerous places, so the stars are aligned to read this book (if there are reading stars.)

There were a few more that never left the library, in the sense that my office is inside a library and they were work-reading:
Tackling Depression at Work by Kerrie Eyers and Gordon Parker
But you Look Just Fine: Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder by Sahar Abdulaziz and Carol Sveilich
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
Topkapi Palace: Milestones in Ottoman History by İlber Ortaylı

Topkapi Palace wasn't really work reading but it's a heavy coffee table type book that I didn't want to lug home.  Otherwise I have a goal this year to better understand depression, so I've been doing some reading when I have a few spare minutes at work.  Since this doesn't happen often, The Noonday Demon remains unopened.

Reading Envy Podcast Episode 004: Home, Frightening and Banned

For our fourth episode, we brought in Jenny's friend Karen, a reading friend she made through an online book club in a virtual world. Karen teaches Spanish at a university in the south. We had a great conversation!

Do you know what month it is?

Scott brought three books that he managed to read while flying to and fro:

Karen collected three books to discuss:

Jenny pulled three books from her recently read list:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise

A few links from our discussion:

Alison Bechdel revisits her childhood home twenty years later
A three-year-old recites Litany by Billy Collins
Google image search for Fables art

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 004: Home, Frightening and Banned

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner

Or subscribe via iTunes by clicking: Subscribe.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review of Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

"Memory - a rebel force, a synaesthesia that storms the senses."

Frances Mayes, after her relocation to Tuscany, makes a impulsive move back to the south.  She grew up in Georgia and moved to North Carolina, but just the same, it triggered a wave of memories and emotions that she turned into this memoir of her childhood.

I connected with this book from multiple perspectives.  As someone who has been away from "home" for almost ten years and is returning home this summer (although not the south and not permanently), I definitely identified with how the feeling of a place can practically change you back into the person you were.  She captures the memories of the place triggered by certain trees, foods, even poems.  There are little details that I still see present in the very southern university where I work, such as Saturday classes to keep people out of trouble (which we had in the 1960s too!).

Another point of interest is seeing the south through the eyes of one of its children, after returning back to it.  I only know the south as an "outsider," and the mention of the Lane Cake "which no northerner could ever hope to emulate" made me want to run to the kitchen just to try.  Actually I wish this memoir came with recipes because of how much time is spent on the food memories!

Frances grew up in the south during a very interesting time, and she explores the changing landscape as it pertains to civil rights and birth control, but then also how it changed her life.  The coda in particular puts a lot of the south into perspective for me - what remains after all the change, and what remains in the author after leaving where she grew up and forging her own life. She even seemed to let go of trying to be who she wasn't, after all the "south always has enjoyed its eccentric people."

I received a copy of this book in print from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jenny's Books Added in March 2014

They followed me home!  It's a good thing I have a Room of Requirement.

These are the books that came into my house in the month of March.  See the digital, eBook and audio, later in the post.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Crown of Stars by James Tiptree Jr.
Alice's Tea Cup by Haley Fox
Libby by Betty John
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott
The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

The Gilman is a review copy, something about time travel which seems to be a theme in my reading lately.  I picked up the Tiptree, Fox, Alcott, and Stephenson at a used book store trip (paid for with store credit from trade-ins!).  Alice's Tea Cup has the strange distinction of being the only cookbook to make me cry, and I can count the number of books that have made me cry as an adult on one hand.  It's just so much like the restaurant I can see myself owning that it was too much to bear.  When I saw it on the shelf of the used bookstore, I couldn't leave it there.  I have a love/hate relationship with Neal Stephenson - he has written some of my favorite books (Snow Crash, Anathem) and some of my most frustrating books (Quicksilver!).  Still I feel I should try this one, it's the last big outlier of his works.  The Alcott fits under my epistolary goal for the year, and Tiptree fits under the author goal, but I've already read one volume of Tiptree stories in 2014 so I'll put that one aside for a bit.

I got the John and the Fielding from Paperbackswap.com.  I'm considering adding journals as a goal for 2015, and both of them fit under that category.  But the real reason for the Fielding is the specific imprint. I ended up going through and adding all the Penguin Ink, Penguin Threads, and Penguin Deluxe Classics titles to my wishlist.  I don't usually buy books for the cover but just look at this! 

Okay I'm a sucker! Guilty!

The other books coming into my collection this past month have been intangible yet substantial.

Audiobooks (digital downloads)
Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, read by Kristen Bell
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer, read by Paul Hecht
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, read by Anna Fields
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass, read by Mark Deakins
Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, read by Peter Altschuler
The Ecstasy of Surrender by Judith Orloff, M.D., read by Judith Orloff
The Blazing World by Suri Hustvedt, read by Patricia Rodriguez and Eric Meyers
Call to Action by Jimmy Carter, read by Jimmy Carter

The Veronica Mars book was irresistable after seeing the movie, and the book continues the story after the time of the movie.  I've already devoured it.  I picked up the Farmer and Wilhelm from a BOGO Audible sale, where I have a monthly subscription.  The rest of the audiobooks were review copies that I have not yet listened to.

Slices of Life: A Food Writer Cooks through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin
Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
Sleep Donation by Karen Russell
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire (graphic novel version) by Denise Mina and Andrea Mutti

Except for Divergent, which my husband had purchased in iBooks and read months ago, these titles were review copies from NetGalley.  I've finished all but the Graedon, but I'm really excited about that one!  I do see a fair number of food related books coming through my house - cookbooks and memoirs - because I have a longstanding food blog (jennybakes.com) and I spent several years in various restaurant jobs.  Sous Chef was a particularly accurate capture of one day in the life of anyone working in the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant, and really gets the energy and exhaustion on the page.  The day I'm writing this draft, we went to see the movie of Divergent, which is pretty true to the book!

I didn't want to take the space to indicate my feelings of each book on this list.  Please come find me in GoodReads and friend me there.  That is where I keep track of all the books I want to read (which is now over 2k!) and review the books I've read.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tournament of Books - this week's votes

I feel like I've already discussed the books, and since I'm still me, there's not a lot more to say.  So I'll just post who I would pick for each round this week!

  • March 18 - Hill William v. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia(My round is different since I picked Asia and the judge picked A Tale for the Time Being) - I think these are about even, but I guess I'll pick Hill William.
  • March 19 - The Good Lord Bird v. The Signature of All ThingsWell I never read Bird so I'll go with Signature.
  • March 20 - Eleanor & Park v. The SonEleanor & Park was wonderful, and The Son is so full of violence I may never even try it. E&P!
  • March 21 - Long Division v. The People in the TreesI had selected Long Division rather than The Goldfinch.  It had some issues and while I am looking forward to the author's next book, The People in the Trees is the best book in the tournament in my opinion, so it wins.  And it will keep winning. Um, spoiler alert.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tournament of Books: Atkinson vs. Yanagihara

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

Life After Life v. The People in the Trees

I do not envy John Green his decision as the official Tournament of Books judge for this round.  I think these two books are the strongest in the tournament. The two novels are very different, but have some interesting similarities in the way truth changes based on who is telling a story, how history can change (literally in the Atkinson), and how perspective can be everything.

I have already <a href="http://readingenvy.blogspot.com/2014/03/tournament-of-books-life-after-life-vs.html">discussed Life After Life</a> in the pre-tournament round, so I won't repeat myself.

The People in the Trees, on the other hand, is probably the book I have been the most conflicted about in my entire life. It's written like an annotated memoir based on letters from jail, about a scientist who does research on immortality on a newly discovered Micronesian tribe. So the style is cool, you would almost think it was real non-fiction but its all fiction and therefore a novel. I even got tricked a few times into looking up books that are mentioned. They don't exist. Nothing is real. But throughout the reading of the book, I would forget and indulge my librarian side..

The scientist, Dr. Perina, is really unlikeable. You know at the beginning that he is in jail for abusing his children, but you don't know the story or if it's true until the end.

Along the way though, along with imaginative jungle descriptions and tribal culture, are pretty explicit scenes of violent sexual abuse. The author made them central to the plot. I ended the novel feeling like I'd witnessed something awful, something that since it didn't even happen, I never needed to have read, so unnecessary.

So okay my question is this... Is this brilliance, If I'm shaken to the core? Or was I just manipulated? Could it have had the same emotional impact without those scenes or if she'd implied them? Either way the author willingly put it there. I think I hated it yet feel like I was supposed to. 

I brought the book up to several trusted book groups and readers, asking their opinion about what it MEANS when you react this way.  I still haven't rated the book in GoodReads.  I'm not sure I'd recommend anyone to read it, but I secretly think it might be brilliant.  So the winner I will choose is People in the Trees.

ETA: See John Green's official choice as judge for the Tournament of Books. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Visiting the history of a place: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

This book by Sue Monk Kidd is a story based on Sarah Grimke, an early Charlestonian abolitionist. It is told by alternating chapters from Sarah's perspective (starting from childhood), and of her personal slave Handful. While some of the story is imagined, much of it comes from the history of the Grimkes, pre Civil War Charleston, and the slave rebellions of the time.

I was excited to get a copy of this book because I was heading back to Savannah and Charleston for Spring Break. Little did I know that I would encounter details from the novel in my tourism! I spent part of a day at the Boone Hall Plantation, one of the handful of plantations that can be toured along the rivers and marshes in Charleston. In the row of slave houses, where each one focuses on a different era in slavery, abolition, and advances for African Americans in the south, I found pictures and bios of the Grimke sisters, Denmark Vessey (an important figure in the novel), and even a representative quilt similar to the one created by Handful and her mother. I know the author lives in the area, and while she did not specifically mention Boone Hall, the world of The Invention of Wings felt very alive in that moment.

People who lead change have a rough road. What I liked about this novel was that it wasn't just about the conviction of a rich southern child, but the difficult journey. From the beginning of the novel, Sarah is denied access to the world of learning, with her father banning her from his library after she taught Handful how to read.

"'The truth,' she said, 'is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse.'"

Sarah Grimke ending up speaking for the rights of women alongside the abolition of slavery, a move that ostracized her from communities like the northern abolitionists and Quakers. She was forbidden to return home, as was her sister Angelina. They would only live long enough to see the tough times of the Reconstruction Era, but not the long-reaching impact they had in both areas of human rights. Kidd does an excellent job of telling their story in a way alongside the often overlooked story of the larger slave community, not just on one plantation but Charleston-wide, where slaves outnumbered white people at incredible numbers.

Slave Row at Boone Hall Plantation